“In terms of strategic fit, you see Africa as the place where this has a lot of potential,” says Mas. “That has to do with the magnitude of the need [for financial services] and the fact that connectivity is available for the first time.”
Kenya’s M-Pesa is by far the most successful example of a mobile money transfer service anywhere, says Mas. Launched by the mobile provider Safaricom in 2007, it started as a way for people to send money home to their families. The service quickly evolved to let people transfer money to business partners, pay bills, and create savings accounts. In just three years it has grown to include more than nine million users, representing about 40 percent of the country’s adult population. Encouraged by M-Pesa’s success, mobile operators, banks, and independent companies are introducing variations of the money transfer system in other areas of the continent.
“In Africa we are seeing an explosion of these things in terms of mobile operators or people who want to do it,” says Mas. “It’s hard to get off the ground, but once you do that, you a see a snowballing effect and can make them extremely powerful, as M-Pesa has demonstrated.”
Obopay was founded in the United States and launched in India in 2007 in partnership with Nokia, which dominates the mobile-phone market in that country. Nokia invested $70 million in the company in 2009. Earlier this year, Obopay launched a banking service in collaboration with Yes Bank in India. It also has a Kenyan operation called yuCash, which opened in December of last year. Securite General and Obopay hope to expand Yoban’tel’s reach, possibly to Senegal’s neighbors.